The Washington Valor, coming off their second straight victory, found themselves in third place in the league coming up against the Columbus Destroyers who were coming off their 4th straight loss and looking for their first win in franchise history. Let me be the first to tell you, records don’t matter when that first kickoff happens.
With that first kickoff we got a taste of what this game would be as the kicker came out and truck sticked Dezmon Epps into the wall setting the tone of the day. Columbus built their team on defense and it showed early as they hit and harassed the Valor offense every play of the game. The Valor, who have scored the first points in every game they played this year saw that streak come to an end as the Destroyers got a interception. The Destroyers took advantage going down the field and scoring on a Grant Russell TD pass to Fabian Guerra giving them the lead 7-0.
The defense stands tall on the next Valor drive and the offense turns the gift into another touchdown strike giving the home town destroyers a 14-0 lead before the first quarter was even done. The last two drives ending the way they did lit a fire under Valor QB Nelson as he gets the offense down the field using his legs and finds a way to get the Valor back within 7 with his first touchdown of the day. Though that lead would again be 14 as the Destroyers go down the field and easily score again making it 21-7 which would be the score going into half as the Valor again would fail to score on their last possession of the half. It would certainly appear the Destroyers were well on their way to their first win of the season.
If the first half belonged to the Destroyers then the second half was clearly all the Valor’s. This game had everything a fan could want and everything they don’t want. 22 penalties in the game between the two teams and an ejection late in the game show just how this game was, chippy is an understatement. With the Destroyers getting the ball to start the second half already up 21-7 it would give them the opportunity to pad their lead but that wouldn’t happen. A quick pick 6 puts the game back within 7 as the Valor’s defense steps up and makes Grant Russell pay for his mistake.
The Valor would hold the Destroyers to a field goal on their next drive and score a touchdown of their own to get the lead down to 3, but that lead would be increased to 6 later as Columbus adds another field goal. I told you earlier you would see everything in this game, well you get an extra bit of entertainment late as Craig Peterson shows you he not only has a leg for kicking field goals, but he has some serious acting skills. On a kickoff that would see the Valor run it all the way back for a touchdown, Peterson who was held on the kickoff threw his legs out from under himself to sell the hold and get the flag to nullify the Valor’s touchdown. Then he promptly got up retrieved his tee where he got into Valor receiver Reggie Gray’s face who got back in his and then we saw it. The Greatest flop by any player not on a soccer pitch. Reggie Gray, 5 foot 11 inches, goes up to Craig Peterson, 6 foot 3, with barely a push, Peterson goes flying backwards drawing an unsportsmanlike foul and an ejection for Reggie Gray.
As a Destroyers fan I would be ecstatic that a Valor player got ejected, but I’m a Valor fan first and foremost and will never deny it, and that ejection because of a kicker flopping like he got driven into the ground by a 500 pound elephant, I couldn’t do anything but shake my head. The Valor were really behind the 8-ball now though, down by 6 and the game winning touchdown called back on the penalties, started what would most likely be their last chance to win the game.
The Valor would drive down the field to the 1 where we would see the Redzone woes that have plagued them the entire season show up and the Valor would turn the ball over on downs, on the 1 with just 27 seconds left. Down by 6 and the ball in the hands of Columbus, no one would give you grief if you stopped watching as a Valor fan. Arena football is nothing if not unpredictable because anything and everything can happen. Happen it did as we see Columbus get called for a intentional grounding in the endzone after a lineman stepped on Grant Russel’s foot as he dropped back causing the QB to throw the ball away giving the Valor defense a safety and the Valor offense the ball back with 16 seconds left in the game.
Down 27-23 with just 16 seconds to go after being down 21-7 at the half, the Valor find themselves in a position to cap off one of the greatest comebacks in team history. Cap it off they would indeed do, with the ball on the 9 yard line, Arvell Nelson would find Doug McNeil in the back of the endzone with 2 defenders on him as the Valor shock the hometown Destroyers with time expiring on the clock.
This game had it all. Early leads that would be erased, penalties galore, huge hits, quick scores, an ejection and a game winning score as time expires. Scoring 8 points in the last 27 seconds of the game, the Valor win their first road game of the season, their third win in a row total and send the hometown team home with a fifth straight loss. They may not be regional foes but these two teams are heading for a rivalry full steam ahead and the next time they meet again I expect fireworks that would make even July 4th envious. The past 2 weeks have seen the Valor win games in the closing moments. It’s a little hard on the heart but as a fan I could never ask for better entertainment.
Next week it will be a tale of 2 winning streaks where we will see the Albany Empire riding a 5 game winning streak take on the Valor who have their own 3 game streak fighting it out in Albany to see who’s streak comes to an end. The Columbus Destroyers face the Philadelphia soul where losing streaks, 5 straight for Columbus and 3 straight for the Soul, will be on the line next week. Whose streak will break? Nothing to do but wait for Saturday to get here and wait for all the craziness that comes along with it.
Week five is upon us! After some offensive explosions last week, this week promises to be even more exciting. Here is a look a this weekend’s action:
Philadelphia Soul (2-2) vs. Baltimore Brigade (2-2)
The Soul travel back to Baltimore to face the Brigade in a rematch of a week two game in which the Soul won 36-27. Since the week two win, Philadelphia has lost two straight, and are surrendering over 50 points per game in those two contests. Baltimore has neither won nor lost two consecutive games this season. Look for Philly to be laser-focused, as they seek to avoid a three-game skid.
Player to Watch: WR Darius Prince, Philadelphia Soul. Prince has tallied 32 receptions for 316 yards and 8 touchdowns so far this year. He is quarterback Dan Raudabaugh’s leading deep threat. Look for Prince to stretch the Brigade defense to the breaking point this weekend.
Prediction: Soul 44, Brigade 43
Albany Empire (4-0) vs. Atlantic City Blackjacks (2-2)
Last weekend, the Blackjacks relied heavily on their defense to propel them to victory. The Blackjacks forced three turnovers against the Brigade, including one pick-six. Atlantic City will face its toughest task to date in the Empire offense this week. The Empire is steamrolling opponents this season, regardless of the venue. Quarterback Tommy Grady is an early MVP candidate, and WR Malachi Jones leads the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. While it doesn’t seem to matter where Albany plays, Atlantic City is a different team at home. The Blackjacks average 7.5 more points at Boardwalk Hall. Atlantic City will need to pull out every stop to topple the Empire.
Player to Watch: QB Tommy Grady, Albany Empire. Grady is leading the league in all passing categories and recently tossed his 800th career TD pass. He has a quick release and rarely makes a mistake.
Prediction: In the upset of the year, Atlantic City beats Albany 45-44, proving yet again that the house always wins.
Washington Valor (2-2) vs. Columbus Destroyers (0-4)
The Valor and the Destroyers are a tale of two teams traveling quickly in opposite directions. Washington has won its last two games and is back in the thick of the playoff hunt. Columbus is still searching for that elusive first win of the season and in the history of this version of the team. The Destroyers continue to struggle with snapping the football and turnovers. Columbus lost two fumbles (out of four total) last week and threw one interception. Washington has seemingly fixed the majority of mistakes and red zone inefficiency that plagued them in games one and two. Valor quarterback Arvell Nelson has put the team on his shoulders. Last week, Nelson was responsible for seven total touchdowns, making his case for MVP considerations.
Player to watch: WR Fabian Guerra, Columbus Destroyers. Guerra is not only an excellent receiver; he is also an electrifying kick returner. Guerra has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season and is averaging 27.5 yards per return.
Prediction: Columbus is close, but is not quite there yet. Valor 44, Destroyers 38
We discuss the Columbus Destroyers home opener. We have our conversation with Matt Sauk, listen in on the the press conferences of Fabian Guerra and Grant Russell and discuss the upcoming game against the Valor with Bee Jay from AFLFanZone.com
Week Four is in the books in the Arena Football League, and the Albany Empire have established they dominance as the only undefeated team left in the league.
Columbus has struggled this season, currently the only team without a win, while the other four teams in the league sit at 2-2, which could lead to interesting seeding scenarios for what could be an extremely fun postseason.
This week, Arena Football made it’s first appearance in Columbus, Ohio for the first time in 11 years, Washington and Philadelphia had an absolute shootout in the nation’s capital, and the Blackjacks rolled the dice to their second win in franchise history. Let’s dive in shall we?
Week Four Results:
Washington 53 Philadelphia 46 Atlantic City 48 Baltimore 41 Albany 56 Columbus 40
Nelson and Raudabaugh Light Up the Nation’s Capital
Arvell Nelson and Dan Raudabaugh almost blew the roof off the Capital One Arena with their fireworks. Raudabaugh went 19-of-26 for 7 TDs and 280 yards, while Nelson went 23-of-38 for 5 TD including a 46 yard strike to Josh Reese.
Meanwhile, Tommy Grady did Tommy Grady things for the Empire, going 22-of-32 for 320 yards and 7 TD. Grady also threw for his 800th career passing touchdown, giving him 805 total and moving him to sixth all time and just four touchdowns behind Andy Kelly and cracking into the top five.
Guerra is Good
Last week, I said that Dezmon Epps would need a huge week to help the Valor beat the Soul. I don’t know if he checks out AFL Fan Zone, but he was impressive, with 9 receptions for 113 yards. And while Epps didn’t have any touchdowns, his play helped free up the other Valor receivers like Reggie Gray who had four receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Soul receivers had a great day with Aaron Wascha and Darius Prince each finishing the game with 115 yards receiving and a combined five touchdowns. In fact, every player for Philadelphia who recorded a catch scored a touchdown.
In Atlantic City, Kendrick Ings of the Blackjacks and Brandon Collins of the Brigade both hit double digit receptions, with Ings having 10 receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns, and Collins finishing with 10 receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
And while Malachi Jones was fantastic for Albany, going for 10 receptions for 179 yards and three touchdowns, Fabian Guerra has established himself as wide receiver one in Columbus, going for 13 receptions for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
Guerra also added another kickoff return for a touchdown, giving him two on the year. The entire AFL had just two kickoff returns last season.
Rise of the Empire
While the final score of the Baltimore Brigade-Atlantic City Blackjacks game finished with a high score, there were three combined sacks and a defensive score as Nias Martin of Baltimore had a 26 yard interception return to get the Brigade back into the game in Atlantic City.
Once again, the Empire established their dominance, scoring 21 points off turnovers and spoiling the homecoming in Columbus. Speaking of Columbus Destroyers and turnovers…
The Destroyers have had a rough go so far in their first season back in the Arena Football League. One of the reasons has been problems holding on to the ball, as Columbus has fumbled the ball eight times, losing the ball four times.
For the most part, it’s been the exchange between the quarterback and the center that has given the Destroyers issues, as over half of those eight fumbles have come in the exchange.
After giving up 21 points off turnovers this past week, the Destroyers will need to get some chemistry between the offensive line and the quarterback or else it will be a long season in Ohio
This Week’s Games
May 25, 2019 Washington Valor (2-2) @ Columbus Destroyers (0-4) — 3:30 PM Albany Empire (4-0) @ Atlantic City Blackjacks (2-2) — 7:00 PM
May 26, 2019 Philadelphia Soul (2-2) @ Baltimore Brigade (2-2) — 3:30 PM
It started early and it happened often, scoring that is, lots of scoring and lots of action.
With the Soul winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Valor would start the game with the ball and almost immediately with the lead. Less than 1 minute and 20 seconds into the game and the Valor would strike with the first touchdown, Arvell Nelson 7 yd pass to Jared Dangerfield.
Not to be outdone though, the Soul in less than 3 minutes strike back with a touchdown of their own, but the kicker commits the ultimate sin and misses the extra point leaving the Valor with the lead 7-6.
That is how the night got started and that is exactly how the rest of the night would go. Back and forth the entire night with no team having a greater lead than 15 at anytime, it would be a game where we saw the 2 starting quarterbacks combine for 14 total touchdowns.
Even the 15 point lead didn’t last longer than 3 minutes, putting the game back within 8 and striking distance the rest of the game.
As exciting as the whole game was, in which we saw Arvell Nelson pass for over 300 yards and 5 touchdowns and another 29 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, it would be the final minute of play that would give the fans their money’s worth and all the blood pressure raising moments that they could have hoped for.
The Valor, leading 42-40 with 52 seconds left in the game, saw Pat Clarke kick a 30 yd field goal that cleared the nets and the uprights giving the Valor a 5 point lead and someone in the crowd a going home present in the form of a free ball.
With a 5 point lead and 52 seconds left, the game is over right? No, not even close. The Valor attempt an onside kick only to lose the attempt giving the Soul the ball on a short field.
When asked after the game why they went for an onside kick in that position, head coach Benji McDowell stated ” We wanted to give ourselves a shot at getting the ball back and running out the clock or if that didn’t happen, to hopefully still have enough time to score at the end should the Soul get the ball and strike fast.”
Strike fast they did. The Soul received the kick and then went on to score less than 30 seconds later giving them the lead 46-45 after a failed 2-point conversion, leaving just 23 seconds left on the clock for the Valor to try and win the game.
Down by 1 with 23 seconds left, the Valor line up on their own 4 for their final drive and chance to win their second game in a row.
“This is what we play for, what we practice for, what we put these uniforms on for. This is the moment we live for as players” is how Arvell Nelson responded when questioned on what was going through his mind taking the field for that last drive.
With a crowd over 6300, Capital One Arena was at its loudest, you had no doubt this would be a defining moment of the game. Then it happened. Nelson found Josh Reese running down the sideline. The Soul went for the pick instead of the tackle and Reese made them pay for it, taking it 46 yards to the house.
“I knew we could do it, it was a great pass from Arvell and we scored when we had to” Reese stated after the game on his winning catch.
The Soul would get a final shot at winning the game with just 6 seconds left but it would fall short. Valor winning the game 53-46.
Winning 2 regular season games in a row for the first time in franchise history, the Valor seem to be turning the corner and finding the high gear for the rest of the season. After all, the last time the Valor won 2 straight games they brought an ArenaBowl trophy home with them.
Jimmy Gordon was asked if this team is better than the championship team from last year, he responded, “Its hard to compare last year to this year. We have our core guys still and we are way more experienced, we know what we can do and we believe we will do it every play.”
As great as the game was, not everything went smoothly for Valor personnel. As I was waiting to get in the media entrance before the game, Jake Payne was attempting to gain access to the arena when a security guard asked if he was media or something. I responded with “That’s Jake Payne, Valor player and ArenaBowl 31 champion” Jake turned around and said “See, he knows me!” Asked if he had any I.D. to prove who he was, Jake responded with the most priceless quote of all time while holding his hand up “I’ve got a ring!” I literally started laughing out loud.
All jokes aside, it was easily one of the most exciting games I have ever witnessed as a Valor fan.
Next week the Valor travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the winless expansion team, the Columbus Destroyers.
Arvell Nelson has extended invitations to Ted Ginn Sr. and Jr., stating that “He has a special place in his heart for the pair and Columbus has a special place in their’s, and he looks forward to the chance to share that moment with them.”
One third of the way through the regular season the Valor sit at 2-2 on the season, in third place in the league. They control their own destiny, just win and keep winning is the motto. Tracy Belton in a candid moment after the game told me he thinks the Valor could honestly run the table the rest of the year, and you know what, I believe him.
With Arvell Nelson leading the league in pass yards (1121), rushing yards (94), rushing touchdowns (7) and overall touchdowns (24), there is no reason that they can’t. It’s a great time to be a fan, Go Valor.